Rallies demand: ‘Refugees: End the freeze!’

Protest outside Labor foreign minister Stephen Smith's office on April 23. Photo by Alex Bainbridge.

Forty refugee rights supporters protested outside Labor foreign minister Stephen Smith's office on April 23, demanding an end to the government's "freeze" on asylum-seeker applications from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Speakers included Refugee Rights Action Network members Phil Chilton and Victoria Martin-Iverson, Socialist Alliance candidate for Perth Alex Bainbridge and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

The next action planned by the Refugee Rights Action Network is an overnight vigil outside the Perth Immigration Detention Centre on May 7.

In Melbourne, 100 people attended a May 1 ceremony to present First Nations passports to the Tamils who had been on the boat in Merak — most of whom are now locked up in Indonesian detention centres.

Indigenous activist Robbie Thorpe emphasised the need to support refugees, and said the relationship between Australia’s first nations and refugees must be strengthened.

Tamil refugee activist, Sara Nathan, said: “I had to flee [Sri Lanka] if I wanted to live. The Department of Foreign Affairs says don’t go there, it’s dangerous, yet immigration says it’s safe.”

Rahmagullah Changazi, a Hazara refugee from Afghanistan, said Afghanistan “has no protection for minorities”.

Dr Brian Senewiratne condemned both the racism against refugees and the 17-year life gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. “We need action, not more talk”, he said.

The rally received greetings from the Working People's Association (PRP) in Indonesia, which built solidarity with the asylum seekers at Merak, and the Taaj Association of Australia.

Other speakers included a Socialist Party representative and Victorian Trades Hall caretaker Jacob Gretch.

In Sydney 300 people marched through city streets and rallied outside Town Hall on April 30.

A slideshow of the Perth action can be viewed here.